Locals chefs share their battles to keep their top restaurants on track

November 25th, 2020 11:55 AM

By Emma Connolly

Mark Jennings of Pilgrims in Rosscarbery said the pandemic showed how important it is to balance life with work.

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THE pandemic gave us an opportunity to re-educate ourselves about work/life balance in the hospitality industry.

That’s according to Mark Jennings, who runs Pilgrim’s restaurant in Rosscarbery with partner Sadie.

Along with Rob Krawczyk of Restaurant Chestnut in Ballydehob, he is one of a few high profile chefs to feature in RTÉ’s Beyond the Menu next week, reflecting on the turbulent few months they’ve endured.

Presented by Mark Moriarty of the two-star Michelin Greenhouse, the show’s first season was filmed last year, and while he had always planned to catch up with the chefs after 12 months, Mark could never have predicted they’d have been closed for most of it.

While not downplaying the impact of Covid-19 on the sector, Mark Jennings said it showed him, and partner Sadie, how important it is to balance quality of life, with what is an all-consuming business.

Mark tells viewers how the first lockdown hit just three days after they had reopened for the season. Fully stocked, they had to pivot or it would have been ‘game over’, he said.

Their takeaway model worked well, and they also had a busy summer, despite restrictions. They catered for 34 nightly, but had demand for over 100.

‘Having to say no to people was heart breaking,’ he said.

He has run the restaurant with Sadie for the past six years, and two years ago they became parents to son Irah, ‘a welcome distraction’ from the pandemic.

But remaining overwhelmingly positive, Mark said Covid-19 had been good for his business skills, and trialling different things, while not having the time to overthink them. When restrictions are fully lifted, he said customers can expect a few changes.


Rob Krawczyk and partner Elaine of Michelin star Restaurant Chestnut in Ballydehob also feature in this episode.

Presenter Mark said: It’s a Michelin star restaurant, and they put together a Michelin star takeaway menu and were booked out for the summer. Both have battled hard, like many restaurants, to keep going things afloat during Covid. It’s fair to say they’ve come through with a different perspective, but tellingly standards certainly haven’t slipped in this gem of a restaurant.’

He said while the first series had told the story of the chefs’ cooking, this time around it was about them sharing their personal stories and what it was taking for them to stay in business. ‘There are lots of positives, but there’s a healthy dose of reality there as well, that we don’t shy away from. It’s an insight into chefs as not just people who cook food, but who have to be bookkeepers, entrepreneurs, having to pivot and think on their feet.’

Beyond the Menu Reset is on RTÉ One at 7.30pm on Wednesday November 25th.

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